Continuing its taste-full colonization of Pittsburgh and environs, Big Burrito Restaurant Group has opened the region's seventh Mad Mex, this one at 220 S. Highland Ave., Shadyside.
The new restaurant/bar is across the street from its sister restaurant, Casbah, and next door to Buffalo Blues, another popular night spot. Add the spring weather and the large front window that opens onto the street, and the effect is a new jolt of electricity along the Shadyside-East Liberty corridor.
"We've been very busy and really welcomed into the neighborhood," said Dominick Iaderaia, one of four Mad Mex managers on-site. "We have people waiting every night, and the bar is four and five deep."
The new Mad Mex -- the company's 10th overall -- opened for lunch on April 12 and held its grand opening April 25.
A neighborhood scout says the street was packed that night with fans anxious to check out the latest iteration, and the critical mass since then has made parking even more of a nightmare than usual. Anticipating this, Mad Max is offering free valet parking after 5 p.m.
The menu offers the same tried-and-true concoctions created by executive chef Bill Fuller that have been so successful at other Mad Mexes. The drinks are the same as well, with one addition. Shadyside is trying out frozen red sangria to see how the customers like it.
Otherwise, folks will recognize the chain's popular mash-ups of Mexican, Southeast Asian and Spanish food -- salsa, wings, tacos, enchiladas, burritos, chimichangas, quesadillas and more. Drinks include the signature "bad azz" margaritas, tequilas, wine and beer. Shadyside has 24 brews on tap, from Anderson Valley Summer Solstice to Victory Prima Pils.
After a four-month renovation, you'd never guess the site used to be a Persian rug shop. The street facade is done in Mad Mex's typical Southwestern style of red adobe with protruding wooden beams, but there's also a large front opening that's actually an aluminum vertical bi-fold door that opens into a canopy for an al fresco feel.
The interior is wide and spacious with booths, tables and an undulating bar that surrounds the liquor purveyors. Lighting is done with a familiar Med Mex touch as well: green bulbs inside Mason jars hang on long wires over the bar. Latticework suspended over the front section is strung with small red chili pepper lights.
But what really jumps out is the original artwork by Pittsburgher Rick Bach, who executed the wild mural of animals in anthropomorphic form -- vibrant or garish, you decide. Mr. Bach also did the metalwork. The walls display a liberal sprinkling of Day-of-the-Dead-style skulls and skeletons, as well as Mayan masks.
The high ceiling allows for balcony seating -- a Mad Mex first -- and the upstairs also features a private room with a seriously impressive 20-foot table. It's made of a single piece of wood with a hammered copper top and seats 22.
"It was not easy getting that up here," said Mr. Iaderaia with a laugh.
Cary Klein, CEO of Big Burrito Restaurant Group, called this "a positive, exciting time for the city.
"We've seen such an enthusiastic audience at Shadyside. There are so many young people in the area."
He said the parent company will be opening another Mad Mex like this one in Philadelphia in late summer, and is planning additional restaurants in Pittsburgh and other places.
"This whole city is still a great opportunity to expand."
Sally Kalson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412 263-1610.